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Mini whiteboards – the number 1 classroom tool?

With recent publications of various edu-books, mini whiteboards seem to be experiencing some kind of ‘re-birth’ in the world of education, with many subjects only just discovering their effectiveness. In my own classroom, I have been using them for several years…


Using mini whiteboards (MWB) is an excellent way of checking for students’ understanding and addressing gaps in their knowledge as well as misconceptions quickly and effectively.

They are a powerful tool which supports formative assessment, and they are referred to by Tom Sherrington as ‘the number one bit of classroom kit.’

For many languages classroom and teachers, they are irreplaceable. From my personal experience even the most reluctant learners are willing to share their knowledge using them much more readily as they perceive them lower threat – any mistakes can be easily erased!


However, using them effectively and efficiently does require a certain level of organisation and ‘training’. 

Sometimes teachers can be reluctant in using them especially with more ‘challenging’ classes as they are worried it can become chaotic and the behaviour of students can get ‘out of hand’. 

Creating routines is essential for their effective use and even my most tricky classes on Friday afternoon enjoy using them and I can promise you there is no chaos! Students need to be ‘trained’ how and when to use them! Be very explicit with your instructions!


If you are a novice teacher or indeed an experienced one only starting to use them, there are some steps to consider before you go ahead…


  1. Planning – like planning your lesson, the use of MWBs needs to be planned. When do you want to use them and for what purpose – RP, CFU, dictation, translation, grammar practice…?

  2. Distribution – think about how you are going to manage the logistics of giving them out? I get them ready in the morning before my lessons start. They are in packs (baskets) on the side of the desk for an easy access and distribution. I also explain to students how I want them to be used and handled, i.e only when I ask them to, they are not to be touched or used before (no fiddling with pens or doodling). After the use students need to make sure the lids are back on the pens and together with the sponges, they are put neatly back into their baskets out of the way.

  3. Response format – it might be obvious to us, but clarifying as to how students need to write their responses, i.e, using large writing, answering simultaneously when you ask them to, can save time and avoid endless questions, confusion, or competition as to who answers first. Students need to understand you are looking for precise/correct/best answers thus avoiding answers being rushed and inaccurate.

  4. Safe environmentcreating safe environments where mistakes are welcome and encouraged is also important in terms of successful execution. A colleague of mine – a geographer also asks her students to write ‘G’ if her student is guessing the answer.

  5. Use – Being explicit when to use them and how to show their responses is also a ‘must’. Students are often keen to share their knowledge and if not instructed specifically to show their boards on command, i.e. ‘Show me, 3, 2, 1, now’, the session can erupt in chaos and as mentioned above in some kind of a competition.

Example of Research Lead’s One pager – EWA

What do I use mini whiteboards for?

  1. Retrieval practice – for testing of vocabulary or chunks of language in this way, the teacher can see instantly what students know and what they struggle with.

  2. Dictation – as this will be a new part of the GCSE course, MWBs can be used easily to check students’ knowledge of SSCs and provide instant feedback in terms of whether more work is needed on phonics etc.

  3. Minimal pairs – I use these often to re-enforce correct pronunciation. I display on my main board set of words, similar in their spelling/pronunciation, read one out and students need to write which option is correct – 1 or 2                      

  1. Translation – I simply say a sentence/chunk/word in L1 and students translate into L2 and vice versa. If students don’t know a specific word, they can replace it with a synonym or leave a gap to be then reviewed and the gaps in knowledge to be addressed when checking answers.

  2. Grammar checks – could be used for recognition of tenses, WO, conjugation, adjectival agreements etc…

  3. Mini writing – I use this mostly with my KS3 classes as a consolidation task – I ask my students to write as much as they can in 5 minutes about themselves/their family/pets/hobbies/school etc.

  4. Brainstorming/mind maps – another way of using MWBs is for planning or brainstorming vocab/ideas/grammar points prior to completing an independent piece of writing. This could be done individually (think-pair-share) or in pairs.

In conclusion, I personally would recommend them. They are an integral part of my teacher toolkit and a way to involve even my most reluctant learners. However, to use them successfully, make sure students know your expectations and you have a firm routine in place.

Finally, most importantly, enjoy using them!



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1 Comment


Guest
Nov 28, 2023

I have returned to teaching French after many years. Mini whiteboards are fabulous for so many reasons, they are definitely part of my teaching arsenal! Thank you for your great posts!

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